A survey of lawyers for U.S. companies that ranks Oklahoma’s lawsuit climate No. 42 does not take into account recent reforms, a spokesman for the governor said.
The 2012 state liability systems ranking, released in September, was conducted for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform to explore how fair and reasonable states’ tort liability systems are and to quantify how corporate attorneys view state systems.
Respondents were a national sample of 1,125 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys and other senior executives knowledgeable about litigation matters at companies with at least $100 million in annual revenue.
Oklahoma’s lawsuit climate was No. 42 in 2012 compared to No. 31 in 2010 and No. 17 in 2008. The states ranked below Oklahoma in 2012 were: Alabama, New Mexico, Montana, Illinois, California, Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia.
Regarding Oklahoma’s score card on elements of its liability systems, the state was No. 31 in timeliness of summary judgment dismissal, No. 39 in discovery and No. 39 in judges’ impartiality. It was also ranked in having and enforcing meaningful venue requirements (No. 41), overall treatment of tort and contract litigation (No. 43), treatment of class action suits and mass consolidation suits (No. 40), damages (No. 43), scientific and technical evidence (No. 31), judges’ competence (No. 45) and juries’ fairness (No. 43).
Lisa A. Rickard, U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform president, said some states, like Pennsylvania and West Virginia, are allowing plaintiffs’ lawyers to “forum shop” for favorable venues like Philadelphia to cash in.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has often said her main priority is to bring more and better jobs to the state through pro-business reforms that make it a more attractive place for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for the governor, said part of the reality behind Oklahoma’s ranking is its outdated reputation as having too many lawsuits and too many excessive awards.
In 2011, the governor signed four lawsuit reform measures: House Bill 2128, which put a hard cap of $350,000 on non-economic damages. Weintz said the change is preventing the kind of “jack-pot justice” that pushes businesses and jobs out of the state and into locations with better legal climates.
“Those reforms are working and are already demonstrating results,” Weintz said.
The number of malpractice judgments against doctors, for example, has plummeted to a 10-year low, a development that will help contain medical costs and keep doctors practicing in the state, Weintz said.
Additionally, Fallin signed HB 2024, which authorizes periodic payments instead of lump-sum payments for damages exceeding $100,000; Senate Bill 865, which instructs juries that awards are not subject to taxation; and SB 862, which eliminates joint and several liability.
Fallin also signed SB 878, which rewrites the state’s workers’ compensation laws to reduce costs for businesses and ensure injured workers receive proper care and can return to work in a timely manner, and HB 2038, which authorizes workers’ compensation annual reports and data collection.
Weintz said the governor is watching the effects of the reforms and will determine future steps as warranted.
Earlier this year, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, of Edmond, released his 2012 policy and issues report. One of his main concerns is workers’ compensation. In the report, Lamb stated that reforms passed last year have contributed to an estimated $30 million in cost savings to businesses.
Because of systemic problems, additional reforms have been suggested by business owners, Lamb stated. The policy recommendations cover three main issues — combating fraud, providing coverage options for businesses and changing the makeup of workers’ compensation court judges to stop excessive awards.
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The top 5
The states with the best lawsuit climate in 2012, according to the study, were:
44. New Mexico
Source: U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform
During Gov. Fallin’s first 18 months in office:
• Oklahoma’s unemployment rate has decreased from 6.4 to 5.1 percent
• Oklahoma’s manufacturing has grown at 8.3 percent, adding 10,500 jobs, ranking the state second in the US.
• More than 120 Oklahoma companies have had significant expansions during with the addition of more than 14,000 jobs
• Oklahoma’s labor force has grown by more than 26,000 people, ranking the state in the top quintile in workforce growth rate.
• CNBC’s “America’s Top States for Business 2012” ranked Oklahoma No. 23 overall; the state was No. 1 in cost of living and No. 4 in the cost of doing business
• Released in March, Gallup’s job creation index ranked Oklahoma in the top five states for job creation in 2011
Source: Governor’s office